“Is the Muslim my neighbor?”
This question was written on the back cover of a book I read recently. It is one of the most prevalent questions of the Christian community – and for good reason. Every day there is an increasing Islamic presence in our media and our neighborhoods.
Well, friends, I have discovered the answer to this question:
Now, I can assuredly say that is the correct answer, but I do think that the question is wrong. The way our society and our churches talk about Islam and the Muslim community is based on stereotypes – if Muslims are not being considered terrorists they are made into a project for which we can earn our heavenly “Evangelism Badge.” When we ask, “Is the Muslim my neighbor,” we immediately put them into the “Samaritan” category. We subconsciously make them the outcast, the separated, the enemy, the one we would not expect to do good.
I have had various interactions with Muslims throughout my life, but this summer I gained more insight than ever. I befriended Muslims. I ate with Muslims. I slept in the homes of Muslims. I traveled with Muslims. I studied with Muslims. I learned from Muslims. I was fed by Muslims. I received gifts from Muslims. I played games with Muslims. I prayed holding hands with Muslims. I was blessed abundantly by Muslims. The people whom I met this summer were not what I would call “the enemy.” I cannot deny the existence of terrorists, but neither can I deny that these fellow “people of the book” were some of the kindest, most hospitable, most generous, and most God-seeking people I have ever met.
But we can’t keep treating Muslims like lepers. If they are truly your neighbors, if they are just like the people who live next door to you, we have to start treating them as such. And since we know that they are in need of a Savior, we’re going to have to work even harder to do so. If we want to make that happen, there’s some things we’re going to have to do.
Stop Promoting Separation of Muslims
Names, geography, and history may segregate us, but it doesn’t seem like we’re doing much to counteract it. When we send chain e-mails, post negative things on Facebook, bash beliefs or customs, and degrade the Muslim community we are promoting fear and hate. This is more than just talk. I know people who have dehumanized Muslim people so much that they have justified their damnation and see no sense in trying to evangelize to them at all. If we neglect sharing the gospel with Muslims we are underestimating the power of Christ’s salvation and underestimating exactly how bad hell is. If you feel this way you should just go ahead and read the book of Jonah. Now.
Learn about Islam
Information is power and we live in a world of misinformation. Learning about true Islam is going to be key to breaking down the barrier that stands between Christians and Muslims. Most of what people know about Islam is what they hear from the news. There are also many in the evangelical community who have read books about Islam written by fellow Christians. I can’t speak for all of them, but most of these books are biased and the point of them is to spend a lot of time discussing everything that is wrong with Islam for the sake of evangelism, voting, or “being aware.” Unfortunately, with most Muslims the “prove them wrong” technique isn’t going to work. We cannot view Islam as a sub par religion that will quickly crumble at the mention of Jesus. Evangelism within the Muslim community has to be about transforming hearts with the truth of Christ, not throwing bombs at the foundation of their entire worldview.
I was on a plane with a man named Yusuf when I had my first theological conversation with a Muslim. It wasn’t as simple as many of those books led me to believe. If our conversation had been a debate I would have lost, despite spending my whole life in church and the last two years working toward a Bible degree. He spent two hours flipping through my Bible to defend his arguments and asked questions to which I had no answers. I didn’t leave feeling accomplished – I left questioning my faith. He was neither rude nor aggressive, but rather prepared to defend his faith, just as I was. However, Yusuf expressed great appreciation for our conversation – not because I had proved him wrong or agreed with him, but because we both knew and respected Christianity and Islam. He gave me his email address and told me that he would be happy to discuss Islam further and would let me know if he had any questions about Christianity. He also invited me to his house in Alexandria whenever I decide that I want to find a good Egyptian husband.
Muslims are going to respect you for a strong knowledge of your own faith, and even more so for a knowledge of their faith – and there is a lot to know.
Information about Islam is everywhere. You can read a Wikipedia article, books about Islamic history, books written by Muslims (my favorite author is Khaled Hosseini, whose books are centered in Afghanistan), or an English translation of the Quran or Hadith; watch a movie or documentary set in an Islamic context (there are a lot of these on Netflix); or visit a local Islamic Center (most people here are friendly and happy to discuss Islam with you – as long as you aren’t coming to start an argument) or an Islamic majority country if you get the chance.
Befriend a Muslim
This is going to be one of the hardest, but most fundamental steps for bringing Muslims to Christ in an American context. Most people I know who have a major issue with the Muslim community do not actually know any Muslims. So much seems to separate us, but in reality there is very little. Befriending a Muslim lends opportunity to learn, understand, share, and grow together. Evangelism in the Muslim world is going to require patience and commitment to relationship, which is something I know that I have less and less of every day. Christian ideas about monotheism, Scripture, the Old Testament and Gospel, and most moral standards are great places to start a conversation about religion and Christianity. But the most important way to start a conversation with a Muslim is the same way you would start a conversation with anyone else. You have to get to know them.
While talking to a Muslim lady, Marta, about what she wished she could change about the American perception of Muslims she said, “I just wish someone would smile at me at the grocery store.” Being kind and treating Muslim people like everyone else is going to go a long way in a community that is used to being looked down upon by the entire Western world. In my hometown of Nashville there is an extremely large Muslim population – especially Iraqi Kurds and Somalis who have come as refugees. Many of us have ample opportunity to befriend, serve, and cooperate with Muslims in our community, many of whom have come here to find a better life. As representatives of our country and the God we worship, we have an obligation to do what we can to offer them that, even if it’s as simple as a smile in the grocery store. Because that person behind the veil in the produce section is still a person, and that person just happens to be a Muslim.
(I was presented with a few small opportunities to represent God during my time in Turkey that revealed a lot about what many Muslims are seeking)
Pray for the Muslim World
The first step to reaching the Muslim world with the power of the gospel is through prayer. Pray that the truth of Christ will be revealed to the Muslim world by any means possible. Pray that peace and safety can be brought to the Muslim world. Pray for Christians who will minister to Muslims when there is no peace and safety. Pray for strength for Muslims who are seeking Christ, but afraid of the consequences. Pray for Christians in the Muslim world to have the courage to speak to their Muslim countrymen. Pray for protection and strength for Christians who are being persecuted. Pray for Christian missionaries to prepare to enter Islamic contexts. Pray for missionaries that are already there. Pray for churches who will support missionaries to Muslim peoples. Pray for churches who will sustain work among Muslim peoples. Pray for churches that will promote love instead of hate for Muslims. Pray that strong relationships will develop between Christian and Muslim communities. Pray for our hearts to be softened to Muslims’ desperate need for salvation. Pray that Christians will be confident in their faith and know how to defend the gospel. Pray that we will further know the heart of God and his desire for all Muslims to come to him.